Does a Cat Purr Only When It’s Content?: A Number of Situations Call for a Purr

At just two days of age, cats begin a lifetime of purring. Each cat has its own voice that distinguishes it from others.

The Sound Differs According to the Individual

Many cats, wild and domestic, use a vocalization that can be described as a purr. It can range from virtually silent, to crackling, to low and deep-throated, to high and strident. The average housecat begins to purr at the tender age of 48 hours.

The Purpose of the Purr

It’s often thought to be a sign of contentment brought about when a cat is stroked, petted, fed, or stimulated through play or socialization.

Mother cats purr, possibly as a means of communication, when feeding or washing their kittens, and their kittens purr in response. Cats may also purr to communicate with their human caregivers.

They also do it on occasions when they’re feeling stressed, such as visiting the veterinarian, giving birth, experiencing physical pain, or feeling uneasy. It’s possible that cats defer to the purr during times of stress in the same way humans “go to a happy place” when the dentist’s drill approaches an aching tooth. Or it could be a gesture of submission, as in, “Don’t hurt me. I’m not a threat to you.”

The Mechanics of the Purr

The origins of the sound are still under debate. Many believe it’s produced through reflex motions of the laryngeal and diaphragm muscles. Others contend it’s caused by quick twitching of the larynx muscles which result in vibration. Or it could be, as suggested by Neil Pederson, DVM, author of “Animal Husbandry,” initiated “within the central nervous system and is purely voluntary in nature.”

Some Purr Switches are Kept in the “On” Position

Zoo employees note that big cats such as tigers and lions often purr by default. In other words, they purr constantly while resting, regardless of their mood or situation. If one animal senses a distraction, however, such as an unidentified sound or the arrival of an interloper, he or she will cease to purr. The other group members notice the sudden absence of one purr and, in turn, stop long enough to decide if the distraction requires their attention. When the all-clear is given, each animal returns to purr mode.

A Choir of Unique Sounds

Some cats purr with such enthusiasm that their bodies vibrate. Others are almost inaudible, witnessed only by a rapid pulse in their throats. Some rumble like a truck engine. Others emit raspy, reedy, or shrill tones that must surely challenge a cat’s sensitive hearing. Alto, soprano, bass – more than one cat purring at any given time can sound like a very unlikely choir.

Purring may Provide Healing Qualities

The sound frequency is between 25-150Hz which is an interesting range because some medical studies have shown it’s capable of enhancing bone density and promote healing. It is thought to be similar to TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) used for pain relief in humans.

According to some studies, the healing power of the purr may be the reason cats are able to withstand more physical calamities than humans or other animals.

Natural healing qualities available only to purring felines? It’s possible!

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